Not an easy task …
Diane and I are in the not-so-easy process of downsizing. While we are not yet ready to move from our comfortable home in Bristol, we can see the day is nearing. As we begin the process of taking a good look at all we have, I am reminded of the days after my parents were gone.
There were many wistful and sad moments as my brother and I and our families sorted through our parents’ belongings. Trying to hold on to bygone days made everything more difficult as we were immersed in memories and emotion. We found things that once, barely registering, were now treasures.
It was hard to let go of even the merest; an ashtray from their New York honeymoon, Dad’s billfold, a set of keys, an old watch, vases and wall hangings from forever ago and a drawer full of Mom’s scarves. Each book, each article of clothing, furniture, everything, represented a memory.
We had to make quick decisions because it felt as if we were doing something terrible. It took courage. It became easier as we sat at the table where we had so many Sunday dinners and joked about Mom’s ravioli and chicken croquettes.
We sorted through pictures going back to when they were young, before they were married, before we were a family. Dad, dressed as if he were in a Gatsby movie, Mom, a flapper. There was no way to tell they were working people and not Hollywood stars.
We weren’t decluttering. We were remembering. We wanted everyone to remember, so we asked relatives to come by to see what clothes of our mother’s they might want. We made it a social experience. The huge pile that we left on the table disappeared in an afternoon. Female family and friends were comforted with Mom’s clothes, some never worn, tags still hanging. The younger men in the family loved Pop’s age-old tools. It gave us all a chance to laugh, sometimes to cry, with delight.
So, what’s the use of keeping things just to have them? Well, there is a reason. Because we are responsible for keeping memories alive. What did we keep? Well, some of the classic furniture, some small things, like diaries as reminders of our grandparents’ immigration, their early days in America and, of course, the pictures.
Diane and I thought of our ‘stuff’. What would our children keep? Would they care about the letters I saved from friends, teachers, mentors, organizations? What about my neckties? Diane’s cookbooks? Her china and pottery ware are treasures. Most of what we own has a practical use: chairs, tables, tools, pots, and pans … things that provide a lifetime of comfort harboring memories of family, hard work, play and hobbies. Our children probably don’t want that stuff. They have theirs.
We’re sifting through a boatload of things, trying to figure out how to dispense of what we are able to part with now.
We walk by our family’s timeworn furniture, sometimes sliding a finger along the edge. We look at the old pictures. They provide an indefinable comfort.
I wonder what our children will keep.